It didn’t look like much, the racetrack in Queens. On Monday, the Aqueduct, whose angular Jetsons grandstand must have looked modern when it was built in 1959, hulked empty next to a parking lot, its asphalt crevices luxuriant with weeds. A lone seagull flew overhead, and aside from the distant roar of jets departing J.F.K. and the white din of traffic from North Conduit Avenue, the Aqueduct sat silent.
It is these 210 acres that have caught the gambler’s eye of casino magnate Steve Wynn, who was scheduled to land in New York City on Monday, July 27. On July 29, he is to personally present to Governor Paterson’s office his proposal for the racetrack’s redevelopment.
This week, Albany will also host solicitous visits from New York City’s largest office landlord, SL Green CEO Marc Holliday, and teammate Hard Rock; MGM and its partner, the Florida-based developer Peebles Corporation; and a cleverly devised consortium called Aqueduct Entertainment Group that combines both national investors like the Navegante Group and local ones like the Rev. Floyd Flake–founded Empowerment Development Corporation. Other bidders likely to make in-person pitches include: Mohegan Sun; Penn National Gaming; and Delaware North, which won development rights to the Aqueduct last year, before the credit freeze prevented it from keeping its financial commitments to the state.
If all goes as planned, these tête-à-têtes should mark the culmination of an eight-year state quest to award development rights for New York City’s first casino—Las Vegas lite, in Ozone Park. It will include thousands of electronic slot machines, known in the industry as VLTs, or video lottery terminals; and, depending on which developer wins, all manner of other amenities, like hotels, restaurants and parking garages.
The rights are worth billions of dollars over the 30-year term of the lease agreement, both to the developer and to the state, which will garner an estimated $300 million annually in revenue.
THE FATE OF NEW York City’s only racetrack has been the stuff of speculation and castle-in-the-sky building since at least the Pataki administration. In 2003, the New York Racing Association, which operates the track, reached an agreement with MGM-Mirage to install 4,500 slot machines on the second floor of the Aqueduct.
But an investigation into the Racing Association itself, among other delays, doomed that deal. In 2008, under Governor Paterson, the state selected the Buffalo-based Delaware North, in part because it promised $370 million upfront. But in yet another instance of epically bad timing, the credit markets froze, and Delaware North couldn’t fulfill its financial commitments.
In April, the state reopened the bidding. Governor Paterson was later quoted as saying that a bidder would be chosen by Aug. 1. Not surprisingly, no dice.
“I’m not going to put a date on it,” Morgan Hook, a spokesman for the governor, said Monday. “There needs to be a consensus agreement between the governor, the president of the Senate and the speaker. They will make that decision as quickly as possible, but obviously they have to do their due diligence …”